Would Aquinas Listen to Metallica? With Fr. Gregory Pine

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Here’s a little what Aquinas had to say about beauty:

Beauty and goodness in a thing are identical fundamentally; for they are based upon the same thing, namely, the form; and consequently goodness is praised as beauty.

But they differ logically, for goodness properly relates to the appetite (goodness being what all things desire); and therefore it has the aspect of an end (the appetite being a kind of movement towards a thing).

On the other hand, beauty relates to the cognitive faculty; for beautiful things are those which please when seen. Hence beauty consists in due proportion; for the senses delight in things duly proportioned, as in what is after their own kind—because even sense is a sort of reason, just as is every cognitive faculty. Now since knowledge is by assimilation, and similarity relates to form, beauty properly belongs to the nature of a formal cause.

ST I, Q. 5 A. 4

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  1. James Friesen

    Thank you for your work. I have listened to many of your podcasts since I discovered the series last fall. Your title on this one hooked me for the entire episode – I am a music minister with the Catholic church where we attend, and come from a family with a rich musical heritage from the Mennonite tradition. My ears perk up any time music and Catholic Church are mentioned in the same sentence. I have spent much time researching this topic and am still often perplexed by the dichotomy – nobody really seems to be that passionate about music, everyone tolerates the often poorly delivered folksy musical style that the St. Louis Jesuits brought in post Vatican II – until you start leading music with more recent contemporary styling, delivered with quality harmonies, and full accompaniment including drums and guitars. Then you have a few folks who really express their appreciation and a few folks who criticize you for being too ‘showy’ (but never to your face of course – only behind your back). The catechism states that Chant and Pipe Organ should have ‘pride of place’, but I have NEVER been to a Catholic church in our territory with a pipe organ, and I likewise have NEVER heard true polyphony Chant with the exception of some of the liturgical responses and Psalm deliveries. It seems to me that the only time the ‘liturgy Nazi’s’ take someone to task over music is when something that they deem too Contemporary and ‘showy’ (for lack of a better word) is delivered – even if it is done so with passion and conviction. Nobody really criticizes the ‘standard fair’ of Bob Hurd music – despite the fact that it is nowhere nearer to Chant than the music of Sarah Hart or Steve Angrisano.

    When someone says to me, ‘I prefer Traditional music,’ I immediately ask for clarification – ‘What does Traditional mean to you?” To some it means the St. Louis Jesuit music of the 70’s and 80’s. To some it means ‘Amazing Grace’ and other 1800’s and 1900’s hymnody. To some it means songs in Latin. However, I don’t think I have ever had someone say ‘Polyphony Chant.’ It seems that ‘Traditional’ to many folks means ‘the music I grew up with.’ I get frustrated sometimes, because it doesn’t seem that most really value the music all that much, and certainly don’t listen to it outside of the church setting yet they can be quite opinionated if it sounds different that what they think it should – despite the likely reality that I am immersed in this music on a daily basis.

    I respect that different folks are touched in many different ways – and there is a place for the ‘Peter Paul and Mary’ sounds of the 70’s and 80’s. There is a place for Polyphony Chant also, and the Church holds it in esteem. We don’t try to push the contemporary style on all masses at our church – it is relegated to only one mass about half of the time because we recognize that it is only one way of expressing the message and the liturgical actions among many – it is just frustrating to meet with resistance for no other reason than it’s ‘something new.’

    A search of the bible would reveal 7 times in the Psalms where singing a ‘new song’ is instructed or celebrated. I have not yet found the idea of singing an ‘old familiar song’ being promoted in the bible (even though the Jewish people used the Psalms well past their ‘new’ date). Revelation states that we will be singing a new song that has never been heard before at the end of times – not an old familiar song. My favorite contemporary artist says that the job of the songwriter is to continually put the old thoughts and ideas into a new musical form – that never gets old to me. Paul in Colossians and Ephesians instructs us to ‘teach and admonish with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.’ Chant in the sense that we think of it today wasn’t really developed as this musical style until 600 to 800 years after his instruction.

    You mentioned something to the effect that liturgy just doesn’t seem right with guitars – that you yearn for the Polyphony Chant sound in liturgy, and that somehow there seems to be an eternal ‘rightness’ for this musical expression in Liturgy (I am paraphrasing from deep memory here – please forgive me). I can respect that for some folks, this really speaks to them. I can tell you that it really doesn’t speak to me and I feel no compulsion to try to lead music in that style, even though we do have our own take on it for psalm responses.

    You are correct that the Church gives lots of freedom for particular churches to enculturate their liturgy, including the musical styling. I pray for the day when music and the power of music well crafted and delivered with beauty to engrain a message into people’s mind and soul so that they take it with them after they leave is recognized and valued by the Catholic leaders and laity.

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